I BELLOW, you BELLOW, we all BELLOW for GELATO! Howard Johnson, you may have thought it catchier to sing ‘I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice-cream!’ But you chose the wrong dessert, man! Ice cream, gelato; same thing? Think again. Or better yet, get yourself to an Italian Gelateria and let the proof of the pudding be in the eating!
And we’re back! Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Our love for gelato couldn’t keep us away for long. Last month we gave you our favourite gelato spots in Florence and this month we are travelling a few hundred kilometres south of the boot-shaped peninsula to the Italian capital of Rome, where we have the city’s Ancient Roman inhabitants to raise our cones high up in the air in salute to every time we tuck into this champion of desserts.
The history of gelato is a long one that travels down a tangled path of fact and fiction. Last month you learnt of its flourishing in 16th century Florence; the first people, under the creative hands of the Florentine architect, Bernardo Buontalenti, to put sugar and cream into the pudding equation. An act, we say, deserving of an extra round of cones in the air! But millenniums prior to this the ancient Chinese, Egyptian and Greek civilizations are known to have prepared frozen confectionaries and beverages consisting of fresh fruit and crushed ice. Alexander the Great stocked snow to refresh his armies. In Egypt silver cups, presumed to have held a mixture of fruit and ice, were buried with sweet-toothed mummies.
Yet as firm advocates of the catch phrase ‘Italians do it better’, they once again do us proud for any gelato scholar will attest that the first recipe, similar to that of today, can be credited to Plinio il Vecchio of the 1stcentury AD Ancient Rome. Yes, not only did he change the course of natural history for centuries to come but thanks to his precise instructions on achieving the perfect consistency whilst blending honey and juices with snow, he was to inspire the taste buds of generations of gelato lovers from thereon. The ruling Emperor at the time, the notoriously bloodthirsty Nero, was evidently as power-hungry as he was gluttonous. So fond was he of this frozen concoction that he had his slaves running for dear life to fetch him snow off the surrounding mountains.
But moving away from greedy emperors and their love for snow, we would like to bring you back to present-day Rome were with great fortune gelato has vastly improved from its archaic form. Once a dessert exclusively for the elite, today it is Italy’s supreme sugary seller, with the cobbled streets of Rome crawling with gelaterie serving their delights for all to enjoy. Here are our six favourite spots:
Ciampini – Situated in the idyllic Piazza San Lorenzo and founded by a family of gelato-makers that go back to 1941, this gelateria, bar and restaurant is as Italian as it gets. Grab a cone-to-go or take a seat and spoon the stuff in true dolce vita style whilst watching the world go by. With topnotch ingredients, including organic milk and eggs, there is no compromise when it comes to quality. We recommend the Pistachio or Raspberry with Nutella.
Otaleg – Yet to celebrate its 10th birthday, this gelato joint, stationed in the hip Trastevere neighbourhood, is already a firm favourite amongst gelato connoisseurs world-wide with the prestigious food critics from Gambero Rosso rating it top of their go-to geletarie. Although Otaleg takes the classics to another level (their phenomenal Pistachio is a blend of three different varieties of the nut!), we say that if you venture in, you either go hard or go home! Flavours such as White Chocolate with Mustard, Eggnog with Marsala Wine or Firecrackers Sauce (spicy tomato) are as mad as they are moreish; a whirlwind of adventure in every bite!
Ps. If you have not yet sussed out the reasoning behind the intriguing name, turn your screens heads up, flip the letters over and problem solved!
Gelateria del Teatro – Once afoot an old theatre house, this gelateria, located on the picturesque Via dei Coronari, keeps true to its name in boasting an array of wonderfully dramatic concoctions, particularly pungent for their usage of herbs! Whilst they have perfected the traditional flavours (their Cream, Coffee and Chocolate are all to die for), for an added aromatic punch go for the White Chocolate with Basil or the Lavender White Peach.
Il Gelato di San Crispino – Although its mention in Eat, Pray, Love has rightfully brought the international crowds rolling in, this gelateria has been a hotspot for hungry Romans since its opening in 1993. With one location next door to the Trevi Fountain and the other just steps away from the Pantheon, you’ll enjoy your cone with a view! Everything served at San Crispino is of the highest quality but one flavour keeps us running back for more… opt for the Caramel Meringue and thank us later!
Gelateria FataMorgana – Gluten, lactose, nut free? Fear not, this gelateria caters for all and does not fall short in taste. With three locations in town, your next gelato fix is never a trek too far. The Panacea (almond milk, mint and ginseng) and Pineapple with Ginger are not flavours to miss.
Grezzo – Another hotspot for the Roman vegans, this wonder of a gelateria/ chocolate shop (in the neighbourhoods of Monti and the Ghetto) will have anyone licking their lips for more! 100% raw, 100% plant-based and 100% scrumdiddlyumptious; Grezzo’s gelato combines organic cashews, cocoa butter and coconut sugar to a creamy perfection. The Raw Chocolate and Hazelnut flavour is sublime and for the hardcore chocoholics we recommend grabbing one of their truffles on the side.